I once had the misfortune to meet someone who claimed that he found buying a stack of t-shirts from the uber-cheap retail giant Primark to wear for a couple of days each and then discard easier than going through the bother of actually washing his clothes.
I don’t know if it was one of those things said just for effect, but there is a deep disconnect between the image of affordable abundance that fast fashion relies upon and the damage done. From the environmental ravages of growing cheap cotton to the batteries of workers in exploitative conditions, there is a chain of misery behind the bargain. The costs remain mainly in the Global South, the ‘benefits’ mainly in the wealthy countries.
A recent newspaper report says 100 billion such garments are made every year. A chunk of this obscene surplus, after its short life with the purchaser, will not be reused but dumped or sent to be recycled in a place like Panipat in India. There it will be shredded and turned into the coarse $2 blankets that get handed out by aid agencies after disasters – which fall apart after a year. Now even this dismal recycling is threatened by cheap fleece blankets (essentially plastic) from China.
All this is a world away from the shop front. Where does responsibility for this mountain of waste lie – with the unknowing (uncaring?) purchaser, the industrial producer or an entire culture lulled into believing this is the order of things?
Elsewhere in this issue, we welcome back John Schumaker, who takes The Big Story’s focus on waste one logical step further in a chilling exploration of what consumer culture is doing to the human personality.
Dinyar Godrej for the New Internationalist co-operative.
Last year, China announced a ban on imports of ‘foreign garbage’. The result? Western stockpiles of used paper and plastic have reached crisis proportions. Adam Liebman on why we need a less rosy notion of what actually happens to our recycling.
Around the world, 15 million people – including children – have little choice but to earn a living from the waste polluting their surroundings. They often work in dangerous conditions, risking their health, sometimes their lives; and are usually relegated to the bottom of the social pecking order, struggling to improve their working conditions.
In 1987, the British government contracted a passenger ferry to act as a floating immigration detention centre for Tamil refugees. Later that year a storm set the ship loose from its moorings. Felix Bazalgette reports on the the little-known story of exodus and empire that paved the way for the Windrush scandal.